¿a dónde vas?

This morning I compiled the list of countries I expect we will be passing through. I added a few on the bottom that are “maybes”.

Here it is:

USA (Alaska)
Canada
USA (Lower 48)
Mexico
Guatemala
Honduras
Nicaragua
Costa Rica
Panama
Columbia
Ecuador
Peru
Bolivia
Chile
Argentina
Brazil?
Paraguay?
Uruguay?
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Magic, Horses and an Overnight Adventure

The first sign of the magician was the series of loud thuds as he fell down the stairs.  He ended up in the doorway to the kitchen with a cloud of cards fluttering to the floor around him. It took a moment for anyone to rush to help him as everyone was laughing so hard. What an entrance.

This week was my first overnight motorcycle trip. I was invited to Kate’s house in the English countryside for an evening of drinks and magic, then we were to have a meeting the next day. Little Bookham is 30 miles from my house, although it seems further because the riding through London is very slow going.

I stopped on my way to Kate’s at the Hein Gericke in Chiswick, where I bought a magnetic tank bag with a clear plastic top so that I can have maps and/or directions in front of me. What a difference that makes. Now I can quickly check that I am on course without having to pull over and get papers out of my pockets. I purposely take unfamiliar routes when I have time, to help become accustomed to not knowing where I am going, and to learn to keep an eye on any and all road signs. It’s difficult enough when they are in English – it’s going to be more challenging when they are in Spanish!

Kate’s drinks gathering was really lovely, about 20 people came and went over the course of the evening, the wine flowed generously, and the magician caused constant exclamations of surprise and peels of laughter. There was an older couple, Jill and Peter, who live across the road from Kate. Jill was a bit nervous of the magic at first, but when the magician made a foam ball in her hand turn into two, she was delighted. I started speaking to them and found that their story was full of twists and turns. They granted me a fascinating glimpse into their lives, which had I just looked at them, I would never have guessed. They had owned a local hair salon in Bookham, and lived on that street for more than 30 years. (Although they did move to the house next door at some point.)

Peter is ten years older, and when he was 26, he occasionally caught sight of Jill walking down the street. He followed her in his car, and one day offered to give her a lift. They started going out together, and then one day Peter decided to drive to Spain. He told of having to ask Jill’s father and mother for permission to take her to Spain. Pretty controversial in those days, but they were allowed to go.

They told me about their son, who had worked as a musician on cruise ships for six years, until he met his now wife, who was a dancer on one of the ships. I asked about their other children and immediately regretted the question. They had a daughter, who in her early twenties, died very suddenly of meningitis. These tragedies in people’s lives come about so unexpectedly, and the effects are so very profound. I floundered – not really sure what to say after that revelation.

Groping for a change of subject, I remarked on the beautiful opal ring Jill was wearing, and that set us off on another set of stories. It was her wedding ring, an antique, which Peter had secretly bought for her after she admired it in a shop window. It cost more than a year’s salary at the time! Jill has almost lost it twice. Once on a beach, where a local beachcomer with a metal detector was recommended to them, and he found it the next day, and the other time the band came away from the stones, which were found on a seat in a pub. If ever a ring belonged to its owner, this would be the case. They are obviously not meant to be separated.

They were married just ten days after they decided to move to Jersey. It would not have been proper for them to go as an unmarried couple, so the tux and tails was hired, a church found, and that was that. No need for months of preparations or thousands of pounds. I wonder how many couples could manage that these days?

Another benefit of planning the Ultimate Ride is that now when I am faced with strangers and the need to make small talk, I suddenly find myself with something to say. I spent the evening explaining our plans, confirming that yes, it was my motorbike outside in the drive, and having everyone tell me how very brave I am.

After everyone had left, I showed Robbie the only card trick I know, which went a bit wrong because there was an extra 9 of hearts in the deck, and he showed me how to make a card I had chosen appear on his arm… I will certainly be using that trick whenever possible from now on. He ended the magic with a “trick” that involved me with a face full of water, and Kate falling over with laughter.

I awoke suffering from the night before, but a trip out to see Cobweb, Kate’s horse, and a very productive meeting over a delicious pub lunch set me up for the ride home.

Two things to remember from my first overnight motorcycle experience. Everyone has a story if you give them the space to tell it, and don’t get too close to a saucer of water if Robbie’s anywhere near it.

Back in the Saddle

Today I rode Charlie for the first time in weeks. The weather here in London has been pretty wretched, very cold with frost and ice as well at times.

Getting back on the bike (to work and back) was great. This morning the sky was blue and I really enjoyed zooming along. I didn’t so much enjoy the red lights and drivers who don’t look before changing lanes directly in front of me! I hope that this experience driving through London’s congested streets and navigating crazy drivers will make me a more cautious driver during the trip. It is just so important to be constantly vigilant.

I am keen to get to Canada and start riding the big bike. I think the Yamaha is slightly too small for me (I’m 5’11”/180cm) and at 125cc I often am wishing for more power. I am loving riding so much on the little bike that the thought of a better, bigger bike is thrilling!

PS – In case you haven’t been avidly reading everything I post, Charlie is my Yamaha YBR125.

Pillion on a BMW

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I was just browsing some pictures from last year and came across this one of me riding pillion on my friend Clive’s BMW. There is something amazing about going fast on a big bike in the countryside. In this case it was just a short ride but seeing the picture again reminded me of that feeling. A feeling that soon I will be experiencing every day for months.

Ten more Mondays at work before preparations can properly begin!

North America Complete!

First North American portion of our trip is now complete! On my bedroom wall. South american maps aren’t available at BCAA, so I might actually have to work to find the second half of our trip.

Jupiter’s Travels

“How can one anticipate the unknown? Preparing for the journey was like living a paradox, like eating the cake before I’d had it. More than once I realised the absurdity of what I was doing. The whole point and beauty of the journey was not knowing what would happen next, but I could not help myself striving to work it all out in advance.”

– Ted Simon, Jupiter’s Travels

I am currently reading the perfect book. Ted Simon set out in 1974 from London on a brand new Triumph 500cc Tiger Hundred. It was his first motorcycle and for the following four years he travelled the world on it. I haven’t finished the book yet, but page after page I am inspired, amused and feel a constant sense that this man feels and thinks the same way as I do. As I feel such a kindred spirit with him, I will take the liberty of referring to him as “Ted” for the rest of this post.

An example of this likeness of minds is when Ted is in the first stage of his journey and he says, “I am learning, as I make my way through my first continent, that it is remarkably easy to do things, and much more frightening to contemplate them”. This is exactly how I feel when people tell me how dangerous our plans are, or how I don’t have enough experience or know my own limits. While I am hungry for advice from people who have travelled to the countries we are going to, or who have undertaken long motorcycle trips, I do take the constant stream of advice from armchair critics with a large pinch of salt. Yes, we are undertaking a difficult and dangerous trip, we know that, and that is part of the appeal. Nothing worth doing is easy and risk free.

Ted expands on the idea that the journey, as well as the destination, is important, “my entire philosophy depended on making the journey for its own sake, and rooting out expectations about the future. Travelling in this way, day by day, hour by hour, trying always to be aware of what was present and to hand, was what made the experience so richly rewarding.”

It will be worth it for the moments that take our breath away, the strangers who become close friends, and the difficulties that end up as stories to look back and laugh at. Ted tells of an encounter with a beautiful hummingbird in Brazil, “It was one of those few moments which I felt could justify one’s entire life. I made a note that ‘magic was simply experiencing something for the first time’. It occurred to me at the same time that my purpose should be to increase the number of such moments until maybe, one day, everything could be magic.”

I may post again about this remarkable book when I’ve finished reading it, but for now, I will take inspiration from Ted and make one of my aims for the Ultimate Ride to be to strive to make every moment be magic…

Ted Simon's inspiring book

The man himself with his trusty steed